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October 3, 2012

Sports rights deals are out of control and threaten the future of the pay-television industry, a lobbyist for small and mid-size cable operators said Tuesday in reaction to Major League Baseball's signing new deals with ESPN, Fox and Turner Broadcasting that run eight years and are valued at $12.4 billion. "The plain truth is that these MLB deals will send monthly pay-TV bills streaking skyward," charged Matthew Polka, president and chief executive of the American Cable Assn. The new baseball deal -- on top of what the NFL gets in rights fees from CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN -- will "make life hard for families whose incomes, hammered by the recession, can't keep pace with the greed of broadcasters, cable networks and sports leagues."

Polka fears that the amount of money pay-TV distributors must pay to carry channels that have heavy loads of sports programming will only increase. The most expensive national cable channel currently is Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, which charges more than $5 per subscriber, per-month, according to industry consulting firm SNL Kagan. TNT, which has basketball, charges $1.18, which is on the high end. MTV, by comparison, charges about 41 cents per customer. "Insane sports contracts are destroying a business model that once balanced the interests of consumers, pay-TV operators, programmers and advertisers," Polka said. Los Angeles Times


It's not just that TV and cable-news network analysts are calling the campaigns and debates like a horse race. It's that everyone on the couch at home is able to offer color commentary. In the same way that makeup, sweat, TV lights and a 5 o'clock shadow changed political and media history in 1960, social media have the potential to change things now.

Social media function as an added echo chamber, supporting and cementing ideas, bringing up and knocking down theories about who's winning. All in real time. In 1960, post-debate conversations took place across the back fence over days or weeks. In 2012, it's across the ether, instantly. Chances are, the voices you choose to follow on Twitter confirm your own beliefs. When we watch the political debates, we're not absorbing issues or checking facts. (For that, we read or at least watch the more detailed news reports.) When we watch the debates, we're lying in wait.

The explosion of Twitter is relatively recent: In 2008, a total of 1.6 million tweets were sent on Election Day. Now, that many tweets are dispatched every six minutes. Twitter has more than 140 million active monthly users who tweet about 400 million times a day.

The campaigns have figured out how to use Twitter to influence and undermine. Both sides flood the stream with messages, often creating multiple accounts from aliases (in the same way folks long ago figured out how to pack the newspaper's letters-to-the-editor page). Reactions are immediate; spin is constant, pouncing on the opponent's weakness or perceived flubs, claiming a million tiny victories and reinforcing the candidates' talking points. Serious political junkies rely on the Twitter Political Index, which offers "a real-time look at voters' moods, and scores which presidential candidate is trending up (and who is trending down) day to day." By using a "sentiment analysis," the index tracks how people feel about each candidate.

In the pre-Twitter era, during the Clinton-Bush showdown of 1992, political-communication expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson described the trend toward "adlike" political campaigns and the way they were covered. Jamieson, head of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, wrote that reporters and analysts forsake their roles as political journalists when they become more like drama critics summing up performances. Now, Jamieson says, social media further the trend. "Because the media will track Twitter, this effect will be magnified. Campaigns will be trying to frame any ambiguous sentence as a gaffe," she said. "There's a contest between the campaigns and the public to control the feed. Instead of working from spin rooms, they try to push their views through Twitter," she said.

What is a gaffe? To those of us on the couch, the definition of a gaffe has relaxed and expanded. A gaffe can be a blooper such as Rick Perry's brain freeze on point No. 3 after ticking off Nos. 1 and 2 of three points in this year's primaries. But a simply flat performance can be blown up into a gaffe from the social-media gossips on the sidelines. Hints of nastiness, flashes of temper and perceived unpresidential casualness, in addition to obvious whoppers as defined by the fact-checkers, will be spotted on both sides and counted as gaffes. They will be pounced upon instantly in social-media chatter. Denver Post


State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Butler County Republican who sponsored Pennsylvania's Voter ID legislation, fired off an angry news release Tuesday afternoon after a state Commonwealth Court ruling that voters will be allowed to cast ballots in the Nov. 6 general election even if they don't have state-approved identification. Metcalfe's ire was not aimed at the coalition of groups that opposed his legislation. Instead, he denounced as a "judicial activist" Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson for the ruling and Gov. Corbett for efforts to create a new state ID to help people vote.

Simpson, a Republican, upheld the law on Aug. 15 but was ordered by the state Supreme Court on Sept. 18 to re-examine the case to see if any voters would be disenfranchised. That order came from three Republican members and one Democratic member of the Supreme Court. Two other Democratic members wanted to issue a preliminary injunction immediately. Metcalfe calls Simpson's new ruling "out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people." He goes on to say the ruling is "skewed in favor of the lazy" who haven't obtained identification and accuses Simpson of "dereliction of legal authority."

And Metcalfe slams the Corbett administration for creating a new voter identification card for people who were having trouble obtaining other forms of state identification. He called that "beyond the scope of the executive authority for the Corbett administration" since the Voter ID law did not provide for the new identification. Metcalfe accuses Simpson and Corbett of choosing to "openly enable and fully embrace the ever-increasing entitlement mentality of those individuals who have no problem living off the fruits of their neighbors' labor." philly.com

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